It won’t be remembered with quite the same “where-were-you”
nostalgia as John Aloisi’s penalty shot against Uruguay at Telstra Stadium last
year, but Josip Skoko’s strike from outside the penalty box 15 minutes into
last night’s “friendly” against Greece could well be remembered as the moment
soccer became a viable competitor for the AFL.

When Skoko’s strike hit the net, Australia
all of a sudden looked like a well-drilled, capable, organised soccer team. It
was from a set piece, the third time the same ploy had been used since the game
began, scored against the European champions. And with 95,103 present to see
it, it proved (again) there is a huge local audience for the sport.

What that figure doesn’t represent are the thousands who
stood watching the game at Federation Square
or in Melbourne’s Greek precinct on
Lonsdale Street. Not every
game of Australian soccer is going to draw a crowd that size, but, to put it in
perspective, the $50 million opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games only
attracted 81,000 people. The AFL won’t get a
crowd of 95,000 all year, except perhaps on Grand Final day.

While Skoko’s goal earned Australia
the win, it was also exactly what the nation needed ahead of the World Cup.
Pragmatism suggests the Socceroos’ campaign won’t reach the round of 16, but
after last night there are those daring to hope – through a combination of luck,
hard work, talent, and Guus Hiddink – they just might.

“The (1-0) margin barely reflected the domination the
Socceroos enjoyed on a night when green and gold outshone blue and white and
the threat posed by Japan, Brazil and Croatia in Germany was made to look less
imposing,” wrote
Dave Lewis in this morning’s Herald Sun.

Elsewhere, Skoko’s goal has been described as “pile-driving”, “cracking”,
“screaming”,
“delicious”,
“stunning”,
“wicked”,
and “lightning”.

But most
worryingly for the AFL, a
story in this morning’s Herald Sun describes the kick as a “screamer”. Oh dear. It seems
even the language of football isn’t safe from phoodball’s march to popularity.

Peter Fray

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